It's about half an hour later when I arrive at Peter's door. He answers seconds after I rung the bell. He holds the still crying Grace in his arms, his hair tousled, an exhausted look on his face. My glance wanders to my daughter, who screams on the top of her lungs, her face red and streaks of tears staining her cheeks.
"I'm so glad you are here." Peter sighs as he steps aside to let me walk into the apartment.
"Hey." I greet him, smiling weakly. Grace turns her head to me, stretching her little hands out toward me.
"Come here, sweetheart." I reach for her and Peter passes her into my arms and she cuddles her head to my neck. Her crying dies down a bit, but she still whimpers heart-wrenching. I walk further into the apartment, sitting down on the couch in the living-room, cradling Grace in my arms. Peter follows me and more or less collapses into the opposite armchair, repressing a yawn.
"So, the cold water didn't help?" I ask him as I wipe some tears from Grace's face.
"No." he sighs, running his hand through his already messy hair. "She spit it out and a second try with the wash-cloth was a failure too." he murmurs, gesturing to the water-stain on his shirt. I chuckle lightly, imagining the scene in my head. He raises an eyebrow at me, but soon joins in my laughter. Grace chooses this moment to start crying again and the brief smiles vanish from our faces. It seems like my presence only calmed her down temporarily, because as I try cradling her to my chest she squirms and twists in my arms.
"Did you find the teething-ring?" I ask him, trying to drown out Grace's wailing.
"No, I couldn't with her in my arms. But let me check now." he says, getting up from his chair. I look around the room and notice the chaos on the coffee-table; glasses, crumpled tissues, two wash-cloths and a few of Grace's bottles with various contents. I reach for the closest to me, that seems to be filled with water and try to get Grace to drink some of the still cold liquid. But I share in Peter's fate as she spits the water out on to my sweater. I grab one of the tissues from the table, drying my top with one hand while Grace turns on my arm, kicking her feet against my stomach. I put her down on the couch next to me, hoping the screaming might be out of discomfort from being held in my arms the whole time, but she keeps on fussing.
"I found it." Peter returns, holding the teething-ring in his hand. He sits down on the couch on Grace's other side, handing her the ring. She looks at it for a few seconds and actually stops crying before she puts it in her mouth, sucking at it for a while. We're both holding our breath, watching her bite on it carefully, daring to sigh in relief as she still has it in her mouth after a minute. Peter leans back on the couch and I see an exhausted smile spread on his lips. But we were happy too soon as Grace throws the ring on the floor only moments later.
Peter's "Nooo!" nearly drowns in Grace's newly started screaming and all we are able to do is exchange a desperate glance as none of us knows what to do anymore.
I wake from a soft kick to my stomach, blinking a few times at the unfamiliar surroundings until I remember where I am. I lift my head, peering down at my daughter, who lies on my chest, smiling at me.
"Hey, honey." I beam back at her, simply glad she isn't screaming anymore as I recall last night. Peter and me took turns in carrying her through the apartment, trying to feed her with cold water or distracting her alternating with the teething-ring and the washcloth. Nothing seemed to work and the last thing I remember is sitting down on the couch after carrying her through the room for a whole hour while Peter had driven to an all-night-pharmacy getting a teething gel as a last resort. I think we must've all fallen asleep on the couch after he got back as I realize I rested with my head against Peter's chest, when I push myself in a sitting position. I turn my head at Peter, who moves slightly at the loss of my weight on his chest, but stays asleep. Grace starts fussing in my arms and I think she must be hungry. I get up from the couch and place her carefully into Peter's arm before I head to the kitchen to prepare some breakfast for Grace and start the coffee-maker.
I need a little while to find my way through Peter's cupboards but finally I succeed in preparing Grace's bottle, make coffee and I even find some toast, butter and jam as breakfast for Peter and me.
I walk back inside the living-room with the food on a tray and find Peter awake, playing with Grace on the couch.
"Good morning." he turns and smiles at me as I approach the table.
"Please tell me there is coffee in these mugs." he swings his legs from the couch, placing Grace on his lap. The fatigue is audible in his voice and I return his smile as I feel the same.
"You might find out if you clear the table for me." I reply teasingly as I don't know where to put the tray on the cluttered table.
"Sure." he places Grace on the couch and hurries to free some space on the table for me to place the tray down. He reaches for Grace's bottle before I even unloaded the tray and starts feeding her immediately. A gesture that makes me smile, pausing in my movement to watch them.
"So it is coffee." he smirks as I place one of the steaming mugs in front of him.
"Of course it is." I wink, reaching for my own mug, taking a deep sip of the warm liquid after I sat down on the couch next to him.
"Pity I can't drink it." he sighs, lightly shrugging his shoulders in a sad way, his glance dropping to our eating daughter in his arms and I laugh lightly, putting my mug back on the table. I briefly consider to take Grace from him but I know that my daughter hates being interrupted while eating and so I take his mug, scooting closer to him, carefully lifting the mug to his lips. His eyes find mine and I can see doubt and insecurity in them as they flicker back to the cup, I hold inches away from his face. I smile encouragingly at him and finally he nods slightly. I lead the mug up to his lips and he takes a long sip from the coffee. I tilt the mug further, a little too far as a small amount of the liquid trickles down his chin and I quickly pull the mug back. My other hand reaches for his face, wiping the coffee away with my thumb. The moment I touch his skin the once familiar tingling spreads through my hand and arm. Our eyes meet and I know he felt it too. I swallow hard as I slowly retract my hand from his face. Our eyes are still locked as I wonder if every Saturday morning would be like this if Peter and I were a couple. My glance flickers from his eyes to his lips and suddenly I feel a longing to lean in and kiss him. It would be easy to close the few inches distance between us and I sense myself leaning forward, memories of our last shared kisses clear on my mind. I see his eyes widen but he's not backing away.
A startling ring at the door has us both wince and I scoot back, placing the mug on the table.
"That's probably my mother." Peter states after clearing his throat.
"Your mother?" I exclaim, looking at him astonished.
"I told her I'd have Grace for the weekend and she insisted on coming over today. I couldn't know you'd be here." he shrugs his shoulders before he takes the bottle from Grace and hands her over to me to get up from the couch.
I get up as well and take Grace to her crib in Peter's bedroom before I return to the living room, just as Peter enters with Jackie.
"You're here too?" Jackie remarks instead of a greeting, her eyes examining me from head to toe.
"Am I interrupting anything?" her glance wanders to the coffee table, which bears our untouched breakfast.
"Good morning, Mrs. Florrick." I reply, heading to get my purse from next to the couch.
"I had some trouble with Grace tonight. She's teething and Alicia brought me a teething-ring just now, so I'll be prepared if she has problems again while she's staying with me. And then I asked her to stay for breakfast." Peter explains and I smile at him faintly.
"You should have things like this, Peter." she says patronizing. "But I wouldn't mind a cup of coffee myself." she walks over to the armchair, sitting down.
"Well, you seem to have everything under control now, Peter. So I'm leaving. Should I pick up Grace tomorrow?" I say, walking up to the hallway.
"No, I'll bring her over around 5pm. That okay?" he follows me, placing his hand on the small of my back and I shudder slightly at the touch.
"Sure." I turn, smiling at him.
"Thanks for your help, Alicia." he returns my smile and I just nod. He leans closer, placing a quick kiss on my cheek. The contact sends goosebumps down my spine and once more I feel the impulse to kiss him fully on the lips. But I'm too aware of his mother in the next room and too afraid of the implications my action would have for Peter. I know my words after our shared night hurt him. I can see the pain nearly every time he looks at me. I can't have him hope again for something I might never be ready to give him. But what scares me much more is the thought that I will have to deal with my feelings for him, to finally find out what he means to me.
"You're welcome." I eventually manage to say, my gaze still locked on his lips, whose warmth I still feel on my cheek.
"Goodbye." I wave at him, turn and leave the apartment.
It's New Year's Eve and I fight my way through newly falling snow, that accumulates to the few inches already frozen to the ground, with a fuzzing Grace in her car-seat on the rear bench. The CD with kid's songs in the stereo, that usually makes a car ride with her acceptable, doesn't work this time. She has already thrown all the toys I placed around her before we started the drive out of her reach and is now tugging impatiently at the little doll that is tied to her seat. My eyes flicker from the street in front of me to the rear-mirror to check on her every second or so and I'll be glad once we arrived safely at Alicia's apartment. Finally we reach her street but I repress a curse, hitting the wheel with one of my palms hard as I scan along the street and there isn't a parking space in sight. Grace has given up pulling at the doll, but started screaming instead. I turn down the stereo, again wondering why she's giving us such a hard time in the car lately. Alicia mentioned it too and it seems to have gotten worse over the last couple of weeks. Alicia told me she sings to Grace when it gets really bad, but so far I couldn't bring myself to try it. I turn a corner into the next street, hoping to find a place for my car, but no free space there either. I turn another corner as Grace's wailing reaches a new high. I slow down and look around at her, reaching for her favorite teddy, that lies behind the passenger seat and place it between her feet. I turn back to look at the street, but keep checking on her in the mirror and luckily she stops crying, grabbing the bear. I've driven around the block, the wipers barely managing the cascading snow, when I see a car drive out of a parking space some 100 feet away. I speed up a bit but have to brake again as I see some headlights emerge from the next street. The car turns onto the lane in front of me but stops just after the free space.
"Shit!" I can't keep the curse back this time as I see the backup-lamp light up and the car reverses into the parking space. I exhale deeply and close my eyes, thinking I'll be trapped in this car forever. A low thud startles me a bit and as I open my eyes Grace starts crying once more. I turn my head and see the bear on the floor again.
"We'll be out of here soon, honey." I try to calm her but it has no effect. I sigh again before I clear my throat and actually start singing.
"Hush, little baby, don't you cry, Papa's going to sing you a lullaby." that's the only song that springs to my mind to which I actually know some of the lyrics. I flinch at my own singing, which is totally off-key and I expect Grace to scream louder but to my surprise she stops, looking around.
"If that gold ring turns to brass, Papa's going to buy you a looking glass." I continue singing, realizing that I turned the block another two times. I sigh in relief as I check on Grace through the mirror and see her laughing. I keep on singing and finally I spot a free space nearly next to the entrance of Alicia's building. I park my car and hurry to get Grace out of her seat and into the baby-carrier without exposing her too much to the stinging cold and the snow. Finally I reach the entrance hall of the building and step into the elevator. We drive up to Alicia's floor and she opens shortly after I rung.
"Hey!" she greets me, a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth as she looks at me.
"Hi." I pass by her, a little surprised to see her in sweat-pants and a hoodie, no make-up, her hair up in a loose pony tail.
"You look like a snowman." she laughs after she closed the door behind me. I turn to take a look at myself in the full-body mirror that hangs in her hallway and chuckle as I see that she's right. She takes Grace from me and puts her on the floor inside the living-room before she turns to me again, running a hand through my hair, the snow from it trickling on my shoulders and to the floor. I don't shy away from the contact as she brushes a drop of water from my forehead. I've become more at ease around her during the last months, the pain no longer stings as much as it did after she rejected me once more. I would lie to myself if I said that I buried the hope that one day she will feel the same for me as I do for her, but for now I have settled for our friendship and the shared love for our daughter and I'm not unhappy with the situation. Just on days like today, when I know that most of my friends will have a loved one to kiss at midnight it hurts a bit more and I'm sure my bed will feel even bigger, colder and lonelier than it does on other days.
"I'll get you a towel." she tells me, heading in the direction of the bathroom.
"Thanks." I take the towel from her and dry my hair as she appears again moments later.
"Aren't you going out tonight? I thought the babysitter would already be here and you nearly out of the door." I state as I watch her taking Grace out of her seat.
"Well, the babysitter canceled on me, so I'm staying home." she shrugs her shoulders, propping Grace on her hip with one hand while she takes the cap from her head.
"I'm sorry." I tell her, folding the towel in my hands.
"It's okay. Actually I'm looking forward to a quiet night at home. I forgot how exhausting my brother can be. And to be honest, tonight isn't that special." she chuckles and I smile at her.
"How long is Owen staying? We wanted to meet for drinks but with my sister visiting I didn't have much free time."
"He'll stay another week. I'm sure you can reach him tomorrow, he'll have to cure his hangover from tonight." she replies, trying to keep Grace from grabbing her hair.
"But you should go. Looks like you have to go home again to change. Or is the dinner at your mother's low key?" she raises an eyebrow at me as her glance runs over my jeans and trainers.
"No, actually I'm not going out tonight." I admit, shifting my gaze to the floor.
"Oh, did your Mom cancel it? I hope she isn't sick." I hear sympathy in her voice, though I know her and my mother will never get along.
"No." I murmur, still looking at the floor.
"Didn't you tell me you were spending tonight at your mother's traditional New Year's Eve dinner?" she asks, confusion lacing her tone.
"Yeah." I sigh, peering up at her, seeing how she switches Grace to her other arm, her gaze not leaving me.
"I'm not in the mood this year to go to any parties, but you were so persistent to get a babysitter tonight when I offered to take Grace, I didn't want to admit I was planning on staying home today anyhow." I confess my little fib, that sounds even more stupid now that I said it aloud. I can't even say anymore why it seemed I couldn't tell her that. I guess I didn't want her to know that my life revolves around work and taking care of Grace. It's been ages since I went out with some of my colleagues for a beer after work.
"So I came up with this dinner, that my mother usually throws at New Year's Eve, but this year one of her friends is hosting it. I'm sorry." I add as she doesn't say anything.
"So, if you want to go to your party I can take Grace home with me again." I offer, clutching the towel in my hands while she still just stares at me.
Suddenly she starts laughing, a low chuckle at first that turns into a full blown laugh fast. I have no idea what to think and just watch her as she turns to the living-room, putting Grace down in her playpen, still laughing.
"Alicia?" I ask cautiously as she moves around, her laughter dying down slowly.
"So, you never had plans for going out tonight?" she pants out of breath from her laughing fit.
"No, but I don't seem to get the joke here?" I step closer, leaning on the door-frame.
"I hadn't any plans either. I never booked a babysitter." she grins at me and I start chuckling as well, feeling relief run through me that she's not mad at me for the lie I told, though a part of me wonders what her motivation was for not telling me the truth about her plans on staying home tonight.
"So, how about you stay here? I was about to order Chinese." she offers, tilting her head, that bright smile on her face, the sound of her laughter still in my ear, remembering that this made me notice her back then, the night we met, I can only nod. How could I decline her suggestion, pass up on a chance of spending time with my family?
"Great." she smiles at me, walking further inside the living room while I hang my coat in the hall and follow her. I watch her rummage through a drawer, producing several take-out menus.
"Why don't you take a look at them while I make our little princess something to eat." she hands me the flyers before heading past me into the kitchen.
"Sure." I answer, smiling at Grace, who tries to pull herself up, holding on to the grid of her playpen.
"So, what would you like to eat, honey?" I ask her playfully, holding one of the menus in front of her. She lets go of the grid with one hand to grab the paper but loses her balance and falls to the ground. Luckily the thick play mat and her diaper provide a cushion, so she just looks surprised around herself, but doesn't cry.
"How was she? Anything unusual?" Alicia calls from the kitchen and I walk in her direction after a last checking glance at Grace, who is already crawling to the other side of her playpen to examine the big clown-face that hangs there, reaching for the big, fluffy, red nose.
"No, just fuzzy in the car as usual nowadays." I lean in the door-frame watching her remove some Tupperware containers from the fridge.
"Yeah, I know." she shrugs her shoulders, opening the first container, which I know contains some home-made carrot mash. My own freezer is full of these containers with different home-made contents, that Alicia restocks regularly since Grace gets other food than solely milk.
"Did you finally try singing to her? It really works, Peter." she turns to look at me and I avoid her glance.
"I did." I manage to say between gritted teeth, already seeing the corners of her mouth twitch as she watches me.
"Really? And?" she peers down on the bowl she is pouring the mash into, but I can hear the teasing tone in her voice.
"Yeah, and it worked." I mumble, opening one of the flyers in my hands.
"I told you so." she says in a sing-song voice, a bright grin playing on her lips.
"I know you did." I look up, watching her put the bowl into the microwave.
"Did you find something?" she turns towards me, her gaze dropping on the menus in my hands.
"No. Why don't you choose?" I hand her the menus, smiling at her, thankful that she's dropping the topic with the singing.
"Okay." she passes by me, heading to the living-room. I turn to follow her but stop when I hear the microwave bing. I head towards it and retrieve the bowl with Grace's dinner. I grab one of Grace's spoons from a drawer and remember to take a bib with me.
"Oh, thanks." Alicia smiles at me as I walk into the living-room and spot her on the floor, Grace sitting between her legs, gnawing on one of her toys. The menus are scattered next to Alicia, the phone resting on top of them.
"Should I?" she asks, glancing towards the bowl in my hands.
"It's okay. Why don't you order our dinner and I feed our little monster there." I smile, walking past them to the dining-table, putting the stuff from my hands down.
"Great." she gets up, pulling Grace from the floor and carrying her over to me, placing her in her high-chair. I sit down next to Grace and put the bib around her neck, which isn't easy as she immediately starts pulling at the piece of cloth.
"Any objections to garlic? Sushi?" Alicia's voice sounds behind me and I turn to see her sitting cross-legged on the couch, the phone in her hand, dialing a number.
"No." I shake my head and turn my glance back at Grace, who is leaning forward, trying to reach the bowl, babbling something that only she knows the meaning of, for now.
"Are you hungry, honey?" I smile at her, taking the bowl into my hand and scoop up a bit of the mash onto the spoon. She continues babbling joyfully until I gently touch the spoon to her lips and she opens her mouth hungrily. I keep feeding Grace as I listen to Alicia ordering the Chinese take-out, wondering if she orders everything on the menu.
"Yes and four mini egg tarts,…oh and add another two egg rolls…Yes, that should be it. How long will it take?" she finishes the call and I look over to her as she tosses the phone onto the table.
"Are you expecting a small army?" I chuckle, putting down the bowl for a moment to wipe some food from Grace's chin.
"No, but I'm starving and I'm thinking that Owen will need some hangover food tomorrow." she winks at me, getting up from the couch to join me and Grace at the dining table
"From what I heard you won't need to cook for the next few days. Are they sending more than one delivery guy?" I tease her as I resume to feed the last bit of the mash to Grace.
"Pfff….you should have seen me while I was pregnant with this little bundle of joy. I ate like a horse. That's why I still need to lose a few pounds." she laughs, gently stroking over Grace's cheek which earns her a smile that reveals the few teeth Grace got during the last months. I smile to myself as I watch Grace grab Alicia's finger holding it tight in her little hand and I take a deep breath as I think about what my life would be like without her in it. There was more than one moment in the last year where I wished I had never met Alicia again, cursing the pain she caused me but every time I hold Grace in my arms or she smiles at me I realize that I would go through all of it again just to have her in my life.
"No, you don't. You're perfect." I murmur, the words are out of my mouth before I can think about it, suddenly feeling her soft curves again under my fingertips. I sense her gaze at me as I lower my glance to the bowl in my hand, scraping the last remains of the mash onto the spoon.
"One more bite, Grace." I hold the spoon up to Grace's face again, but she presses her lips together and I take it as a sign she is done. I loosen her bib and hurry to get up, taking the dish outside into the kitchen. I curse under my breath as I reach the other room, letting the bowl and spoon fall into the sink, not believing I really said that, after months I managed not to say or do anything that reveals my feelings for her. I turn on the water, starting to scrub the dish violently, letting the anger I feel for myself out on it.
"Merry Christmas, Peter." I jump at Alicia's words, not having noticed her entering the room. The bowl drops from my hands and I gasp before I turn to her. I stare at her surprised, her words finally sinking in as my gaze drops to the neatly wrapped package in her hands.
"I know it's a little late but I didn't want to give it to you in passing." she smiles and I let the rag drop into the sink, reaching for a dish towel to dry my hands before I take the parcel from her.
"Thank you." I manage a faint smile, but still keep my eyes down, not really able to look at her.
"Thanks for thinking I'm perfect, even though I'm not." she whispers and my head snaps up as I feel her hand on my cheek. She brushes the back of her fingers gently over my skin, retracting it way too fast for my liking as our eyes meet.
"Don't you want to open it?" she asks and I nod, following her as she walks out of the room. She stops at the playpen, taking Grace out of it before she settles on the couch, placing Grace on her lap. I sit down on the armchair and start unwrapping my present, when I remember something. I put the package on the table and get up.
"I'll be right back." I tell her, walking outside into the hall, to retrieve something from my coat.
"Merry Christmas to you, too." I smile as I come back into the living room, handing her a small present, I've been carrying around with me since Christmas.
"Thank you!" she says surprised, taking the parcel from me.
"But you first." she smiles, nodding to my present on the table. I sit down again, this time next to Alicia on the couch and resume unpacking my present. Finally I push the wrapping paper away, finding a book inside. Grace's name glitters at me in Alicia's handwriting on a bright blue cover, a picture of her and her date of birth beneath it.
"What is that?" I look up, finding Alicia's gaze.
"Some pictures and other stuff from the time you missed in Grace's life. I thought you might want to have at least that. But see for yourself." she urges me on to open the book. I smile at her, brushing the book's cover with my fingertips, not quite believing she put this together for me.
"Don't you want to open yours?" I ask, torn as I don't know what I am more curious about, my own present or Alicia's reaction to hers.
"Sure." she smiles, pulling slowly at the bow, gently taking the ribbon from Grace's fingers. I watch her, suddenly no longer sure I picked the right present.
"Peter?" she looks up at me as she takes the paper from the velvet box, her eyes revealing curiousness and doubt.
"Open it." I smile, trying to cover up my nervousness about her reaction.
"Oh my God, it's beautiful!" she exclaims after she lifted the lid from the box, which covers a silver bracelet with a star shaped medallion, Grace's name engraved on the front. She takes it out of the box, spotting that it can be opened, which she does after she put down the box on the table.
"Thank you." she whispers, taking her glance from the two pictures of Grace I had put inside the medallion.
"You like it?" I ask hesitantly, my eyes switching between her face and the bracelet in her hands.
"I love it. Thank you." she beams at me and I return the smile.
"Can you help me put it on?" she hands me the piece of jewelry, holding it away from Grace, whose eyes follow the silver chain, her little hands outstretched to grab it.
"Sure." I take it from her and she extends her arm so I can place the bracelet around her wrist, my fingertips brushing over her skin as I fasten the clasp. The small touch sends a tingling sensation through my fingers and arms, that doesn't fade as I pull my hands back. I hear her gasp lightly and know she felt it too. I keep my gaze down, sensing she takes Grace from her lap, sitting her down in the corner of the couch before she scoots closer to me. I look up as I feel her arm on my shoulders.
"Thank you." she leans in, hugging me. My arm slides along her waist to her back and I pull her closer, feeling her face rest on my neck, her warm breath tickles my skin and sends goosebumps down my spine. She reclines slowly but her face stays level with mine, her eyes flickering over my face, finally locking with mine. Part of me wants to retreat, flee from this situation that I long for every time I'm with her but fear all the same as I know how miserable I will feel afterwards. But I don't shy back, just hold her gaze as she slowly leans closer. My hand still rests on her waist, feeling the warmth of her body through the sweater she's wearing. The urge to move it down a little, to slide my fingertips under the fabric, letting them run over her bare skin is strong but I resist, keeping my hand where it is. Our eyes are still locked but I fail to read hers, all the while knowing she'll be able to see all the love I feel for her in mine. Her face is so close now, it's all I can see, my thundering heartbeat drowns out all other sound when I feel her jerk back, a ringing noise scratching at the corners of my perception. I blink a few times, finally realizing where the ringing comes from.
"It's the food." Alicia says after clearing her throat. She gets up and walks outside while I need a few seconds to shake what nearly happened away. A part of me is glad the delivery guy interrupted what was about to happen, while my heart aches for the missed chance to kiss her as I feel the traces of her warmth linger on my hand. Grace's babbling jerks me from my reverie and I place the book Alicia gave me on the table before I reach for her, taking her into my arms.
"Can you give me a hand?" Alicia calls out from the hallway and I hurry to place Grace inside the playpen before I walk outside to help her.
"It looks more than it is." she tells me as I step into the hall, spotting her with two bags in her hands, pushing the door shut with her hip and I chuckle as I see two more bags on the floor next to her feet.
"I hope you tipped the poor guy enough." I laugh, stepping closer to her to pick up the bags from the ground.
"Stop teasing me. You've never seen the amounts of food Owen is capable of eating after a drunken night." she defends herself as she passes me on her way back to the living room.
"Sure." I smirk behind her back, following her to place the bags on the coffee-table.
"Can you take the food out while I fetch us some dishes? Red wine okay?" she asks, already halfway through the room.
"Yeah." I reply, starting to empty the first bag on the dining-table.
Once Alicia comes back with the dishes and glasses we sit down and start eating, the conversation soon drifting from Grace to our jobs, Alicia telling me about some small cases she is handling.
"So, the firm goes well?" I ask her while reaching for the bottle to refill both our glasses.
"Yes, very well. They even think of hiring another litigator. I'd love to do it, but with Grace I can't." she smiles sadly, taking a sip from her wine.
"I'm sorry." I declare as I recall how good she is in a courtroom and I can imagine she misses it.
"It's okay. I wouldn't want it any other way." she shrugs her shoulders and her glance wanders to Grace, who is busy throwing her toys around in the playpen, happily babbling and laughing from time to time. I see a smile spread on Alicia's lips as she watches our daughter and I know she means it.
We finish our dinner, talking about some of my cases, Alicia soon poking holes in one of my strategies for an upcoming trial.
"I'm glad you are not the defense attorney." I laugh after a while, but make a mental note about some of the issues she brought up, planing to work them into my strategy once I am back at the office.
"If I were, you had no chance to even the score." she winks at me, reminding me of the defeat I endured the one time we met in court.
"Probably not." I admit, standing to start clearing the table as none of us has eaten in a while. My glance falls on Grace, who is yawning, her eyes only small slits.
"Someone is tired." I nod towards her and Alicia checks her watch.
"Oh, it's way past her bedtime." she stands as well, scooping Grace up into her arms before she heads to the nursery.
I join her after I cleared the table and put the tons of leftover food into the fridge. She just finished changing Grace's diaper and puts on her pajama. I keep watching them, a longing to be able to have evenings like today every day tugs at my heart.
"Do you want to bring her to bed?" Alicia asks me and I nod, stepping up to them to take Grace from the changing table. She smiles at me, grabbing the collar of my polo-shirt. I place her inside her bed and her eyes close the second her head hits the mattress, something that is rarely seen with her.
"She's totally beat." Alicia whispers next to my ear as I straighten up after I kissed Grace goodnight.
"Yeah. Come on." I step back from the crib, also attempting to get away from Alicia and the sudden closeness she has created by standing next to me. It reminds me of what nearly happened on the couch earlier. I push the thought away as I head outside, the idea of leaving running through my mind. I keep standing in the middle of the room, unsure of what to do.
"Should we watch some tv or do you want more tips for your trial? Maybe take some notes?" Alicia's teasing voice sounds behind me. She picked up our glasses and the bottle of wine and placed it on the coffee-table. She grins at me as she sits down on the couch, lifting her legs up before she reaches for her glass.
"No, I think I'm good." I smile as I walk to the couch, sitting down next to her, the thought of going home fading from my mind. She reaches for the remote, switching through the channels as I remember I haven't properly looked at my present, so I take it from the table and open it. The first page contains a picture that must have been taken shortly after Grace's birth as she looks so tiny in it and the probe in her nose and the glass-walls of the incubator are clearly visible. I swallow hard as my eyes flicker to the writing underneath, telling me the date, time, weight and height at her birth. I turn the page to find two ultra-sound pictures and I wish I had been there when they were made. I flip through the book which contains a few more pictures from her stay at the hospital but the majority of the photos is from the time when Alicia lived with her Dad and I guess most of them were taken by Richard.
"Thank you." I peer up to look at Alicia, whose gaze I felt resting on me for a while now.
"You're welcome. I know it doesn't make up for the time you missed…."
"Don't. It's okay. None of us can change that. I'm glad I can be a part of her life now." I smile at her.
"So, did you find something worth watching?" I ask after a few moments passed in silence.
"Well, you can choose between 'Silence of the lambs', 'Dirty Dancing', Dances with wolves' and 'Forrest Gump'. The last two just started. Any favorites?" her glance wanders to the screen, where I spot Tom Hanks sitting on a bench.
"You pick." I tell her and she tosses the remote on the table, indicating we will keep watching 'Forrest Gump'.
I settle deeper into my seat, reaching for my wine, taking a sip from time to time as we keep watching the movie, laughing or briefly commenting some scenes. I swallow hard at the scene where Forrest wakes to find Jenny gone, knowing that feeling of emptiness all too well myself. I peer towards Alicia and find her asleep, her head resting on the back of the couch, close to my shoulder. I carefully get up and reach for the blanket next to her, gently placing it over her body. I decide to go and check on Grace, finding her fast asleep, so I head back to the living-room. Alicia moves slightly as I resume my seat next to her, snuggling up to my shoulder. I move my arm around her and she scoots down, her face resting on my chest now. I dare not to move anymore trying to concentrate on the movie but I catch myself more than once glancing down at Alicia's sleeping form. Suddenly the movie is over and the program switches to a live broadcast from Times Square in New York and I realize it's quarter to 11pm, which means close to midnight on the East Coast.
"Hey, you want to see the ball drop?" I whisper, gently stroking Alicia's arm and she slowly opens her eyes.
"Is it that late yet?" she mumbles, repressing a yawn as she sits up.
"How long did I sleep? Did Grace wake up?" she asks me, looking around a little disoriented.
"About an hour and no, not a beep." I smile at her, watching as she runs her hands through her hair, loosening the band tying it together.
"Okay. How long till the ball drops?" she looks at me and I can only smile at her appearance, the tussled hair, the sleepiness still visible in her eyes.
"A few minutes." I nod towards the screen which shows a countdown in the lower left corner.
We watch the broadcast and as the commentator wishes a Happy New Year to the audience Alicia turns her head towards me. She scoots back in her seat, her eyes locking with mine.
"Happy New Year, Peter." she whispers and before I can object and tell her we still have another hour to go, she leans closer and a second later I feel her lips on mine. The kiss is soft and only lasts a moment, so I just briefly close my eyes until I no longer feel the touch of her lips. Our eyes lock again and I see a smile on her lips.
"Happy New Year, Alicia." I murmur, not sure if I only imagined this kiss. She settles deeper in her seat and I wish I could place my arm around her, like I did earlier when she was asleep. We watch the pictures from Times Square and after a while I throw all caution aboard and place my arm on the backrest behind her. I keep on peering over to her and after a while see her eyelids getting heavier until they fall shut and her head slips sideways against my chest. I sigh deeply, this time enjoying the closeness, the wish, moments like this would be a constant part of our lives, lingering in my mind before sleep captures me as well.